Premier League, February 11 2018
Newcastle's first Premier League home win since October came at the surprise expense of Manchester United and Jose Mourinho at St James' Park. Matt Ritchie was the matchwinner for Rafa Benitez's side, latching on to a clever Dwight Gayle flick and firing past David de Gea after the United defence had failed to deal with the first ball at a set-piece. Jonjo Shelvey was the star man for the home side, and the dominant figure in a midfield battle that again largely bypassed an ineffective Paul Pogba.
10 / 3
SHOTS / ON TARGET
7 / 4
Passes / Accurate
12 / 0 / 0
Fouls / Yellow / Red
14 / 2 / 0
Rafa Benitez set his Newcastle side up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, slipping back to a tight 4-4-2 system in the defensive phase. Ayoze Perez, who joined Dwight Gayle in the first line of defence, was tasked with putting pressure on Nemanja Matic and the opposition centre-backs by roaming among the defenders. The Magpies marked the possible receivers of the ball and drove them back towards their own goal, with Gayle closing down David de Gea to put pressure on his distribution.
Newcastle pressed the player in possession at all times inside their own half, preventing the midfield pair of Matic and Paul Pogba from easily exchanging passes. Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame worked hard to ensure that neither Pogba nor Jesse Lingard could receive the ball in between the lines. Shelvey was the standout player, providing effective attacking options and defensive support throughout the game.
In their build-up, new goalkeeper Martin Dubravka favoured direct passes into the Newcastle attackers. Perez and Diame immediately pushed forward in these situations, trying to compete in the air so that Gayle could try to penetrate the last line of defence with his breakaway runs, or hold up the play until support appeared from midfield. They tried to filter through balls in behind the United defence or to switch the play right to the offensively minded full-back DeAndre Yedlin, who would look for Matt Ritchie and Shelvey to make late runs into the penalty area. Their aim was to create a shooting chance as quickly as possible without sacrificing their structure, or to win a set-piece opportunity – from which the eventual winner came.
On the counter-attack, the hosts looked to take advantage of gaps in the United defence after breaking through their first line of pressure. Most of these moves centred on Shelvey, of course, who forced his way in behind the opposition midfield in order to spearhead the attack.
Manchester lined up a 4-3-2-1 formation, dropping back to 4-1-4-1 in defence, with Nemanja Matic sitting behind the midfield four. Their main aim in defence was to make life difficult for Newcastle and channel their long balls through the centre, with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez spearheaded the pressing game. However, the visitors could not press the player in possession effectively despite their numerical advantage in crucial areas – and nor did they close down the passing opportunities, too often enabling Jonjo Shelvey time in possession to play through balls.
Jose Mourinho’s men did not defend deeply enough, and they paid the price for their attacking optimism when the hosts penetrated their defensive line. The centre-backs Phil Jones and Chris Smalling looked shaky at the back, leaving gaps in the defence after losing out to Dwight Gayle and Ayoze Perez in the air, and making too many mistakes for a team that wants to compete with their Manchester rivals for the Premier League title.
United tried a combination of attacking tactics, and Alexis Sanchez made a big difference for his new side going forwards. The Chilean repeatedly managed to spot space in the opposition half, which troubled the otherwise well-organised Newcastle defensive lines. Otherwise, the team as a whole did not look comfortable when Newcastle deployed their rearguard tactics, struggling to find any route through the last line of defence.
The pressure from the hosts, along with United’s own slow tempo, hampered their passing game as they tried to progress towards the opposition half. Paul Pogba and Matic made little progress through the Newcastle defence, forcing Jesse Lingard and Sanchez to drop deeper than ideal on a number of occasions. In the final third, they looked to whip crosses into the box immediately without ever really creating the right openings.
On the counter, they were never really able to cause the home side any damage. They wanted to exploit the possible gaps in the defence before Newcastle were able to reorganise, but they never established any pattern here and both Lingard and Sanchez found themselves running into brick walls. A double chance for Anthony Martial inside the six-yard box stood out among United’s set-piece attacks, but it was their own frailty at a defensive set-piece that cost them the crucial goal.
Rafa Benitez prepared an excellent gameplan, which made it difficult for Manchester United to develop their attacks. The Newcastle manager set his defensive unit up to mark all the possible receivers of the ball in the opposition half, which encouraged David de Gea to play short passes – enabling his front line to try and win possession high up the pitch.
Newcastle ensured that United could not make any progress in central areas. Their defence used their speed and adaptability to prevent the visitors’ midfield from playing straight through them.
Jonjo Shelvey was the man of the match. The England international provided effective attacking options and defensive support throughout the game.
The United centre-backs Phil Jones and Chris Smalling looked shaky at the back, leaving gaps in the defence after losing out to Dwight Gayle and even Ayoze Perez in the air.
Alexis Sanchez made a big difference for United in attack. The Chilean was the one United player who managed to quickly spot space in the opposition half, outwit his marker and threaten the Newcastle back line.
Author: Tony Hodson